Bringing mellow Queensland vibes to their California rock tendencies, Brissie quartet Carvel have consistently been building their upbeat rock sounds since forming in 2015. Born off the back of vocalist Tim Tanzer and guitarist Cameron Jang's fire covers in the YouTube world, Carvel evolved from hobby to legit project with the addition of bassist Tom Jewell and drummer James Jelliffe.
No strangers to hooky melodies and catchy beats, Carvel have already won hearts both at home overseas since their debut EP 'For The Birds' released back in 2015, all the while having casually jammed with Flea, getting praised by Dave Navarro and clocking up thousands upon thousands of views on their YouTube channel.
Fast forward to 2018 and the Carvel boys are officially back and poised to unveil their rockin' sophomore self-titled EP, the first new music in three years - but before the 'Carvel' EP drops tomorrow, The Soundcheck had a chat to Tim and Cam about collaboration, cover songs and selling their souls to the caffeine gods to self-produce their new baby. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Firstly, thanks so much for the chat today! I always love me some funky beats and slick riffs, and Carvel are certainly bringing that and more! But tell me a bit about how Carvel as a musical project came to be? I believe YouTube may have a bit to answer for?
TIM + CAMERON: Thank you so much for having us. Carvel is an original music project that began out of our YouTube channel, Tim and Cameron Playing Guitar. We started the YouTube channel in 2013, and although we had played together in some other jazz bands & rock bands previously, we weren’t planning on starting a new band. It was intended to be a very relaxed project. In fact, we started the channel at a time where music was taking a backseat in our lives, and somehow we developed a bigger following than any of our previous projects; it’s funny how these things turn out. We performed exclusively acoustic cover songs on YouTube until our listeners began asking to hear some original material. We wrote some songs and planned on releasing an acoustic EP in 2015. However, we made a fairly last minute decision to get a band together to record the songs. We recruited James (drums) and Tom (bass) to record ‘For the Birds' EP in two days, and after the success of the EP we decided to keep the band together, the rest is history.
TIANA: Tomorrow the world gets to hear Carvel’s self-titled EP, which has been described as a collection of songs about self reflection – can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind the EP? Was it a conscious decision to have the concept of self reflection, or did this just happen naturally?
TIM + CAMERON: This EP draws from many different influences. Being our second EP, and writing with the band we expected it to narrow our sound somewhat, or at least be more consistent than our debut EP. The opposite happened and we ended up with a collection of very different sounding songs. We have both grown a lot as guitarists over the past 2 years and we had been experimenting with lots of new sounds and textures on the guitars. This provided a lot of the inspiration for the songs. Lyrically, the tracks are very personal and introspective in nature and reflect on different periods of time. This realisation came to us once the EP was finished, and Damian, our artist, was able to express this perfectly through his artwork. It features many reflections of the same image held together by ‘gravity’- sort of like a planet. Despite the differences in style of each song, we feel like this theme holds everything together in the same space.
TIANA: And I believe it was the band’s first experience writing collaboratively all together – what was the songwriting process like?
TIM + CAMERON: Yes, for this EP each song was worked on start to finish by all of us. On ‘ For the Birds’, the songs were written prior to the bands conception. Leading up to writing ‘Carvel' EP we had been having a blast jamming together as a band, and most of our songs evolved out of these sessions, so it was a very organic process putting them together. It definitely took a while to gain some confidence and gel as a band, to trust that the new ideas were going somewhere. But once things were rolling we let go of a lot of our preconceived notions about what our music should sound like and how the songs should be written, which has ultimately made for a more cohesive and interesting collection of material. The major downside to this process was that in hindsight we wrote way too many songs for an EP, and it took us such a long time to decide which ones to take to our final studio sessions.
TIANA: Do you all work well creatively together?
TIM + CAMERON: Everyone in the band is willing to be flexible in style and instrumentation and we explore each others ideas to their conclusion. This results in the songs evolving sometimes quite dramatically. Coming from a space of being acoustic songwriting partners in the past, we both have a habit of imagining what the song sounds like before it is completed. But everything changes when James adds his drums to the mix, the songs change in ways we had never considered.
TIANA: And it was also self-produced, mixed and mastered! What was this process like, and is it something you’ll continue to do with any future releases?
TIM + CAMERON: We won’t sugarcoat it, self producing this EP was an incredibly long and difficult process. Producing music is not always as fun as it sounds, it can be incredibly pain staking and tedious at times, and we spent way, way more hours than we care to mention working on the production of this EP. The way we see it, in today’s music industry you have a choice. You can devote your time to your art and hope somebody with finances and influence notices you, or you can create your own success by working incredibly hard and getting through the things that need to be done to reach your goals. Music production is a large cost, and a hugely important part of your music. There were several times during the making of this EP where we wanted to tear our hair out, but we aren’t willing to sit back and hope something lucky will happen to us, or a label will pick us up and fund our career. Now that it’s all finished after some very late nights and maybe a thousand cups of coffee (seriously), we have some great stories and are much better, more efficient producers.
TIANA: There certainly seems to be a few different influences kicking around on the EP, and it’s quite a diverse mix – there’s crunch, there’s psychedelic, there’s chilled ambience, there’s funk…and there’s been mention of artists like Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Vile and the Chili Peppers as influences, but are there any other influences outside of those that you guys have had going into this project back in the day?
TIM + CAMERON: Some influences were conscious, and leading up to the making of this EP, we were really digging this psychedelic fuzz sound that you hear from artists like Kurt Vile and Jimi Hendrix. We found our own spin on this texture that inspired a lot of the sounds on the Carvel EP. Some influences are so ingrained in your musical footprint that you can’t shake them no matter how hard you try. For us that includes artists like Radiohead, the Chili Peppers, John Frusciante, City and Colour and Jeff Buckley, which will probably find their way into our music no matter where we head in the future. That being said, this EP we felt free to play whatever felt right for each track, whether it be the most cliché pop-funk riff or a ridiculously overdriven guitar solo.
TIANA: Do you all have quite similar musical tastes in terms of what you listen to outside of playing in Carvel? Or are there some surprises lurking on someone’s Spotify playlists?
TIM + CAMERON: We listen to a lot of different music. We have a core set of similar interests that inspire us as musicians and then there’s also music that we simply enjoy listening to. I (Cameron) am interested in experimental rock artists like Mac Demarco and avant garde electronica à la Thom Yorke & John Frusciante, and have recently been obsessed with learning how to use analogue drum machines. Some things our listeners may not know about us is that James has experience writing and recording electronic dance music, and Tim started on classical piano. I’ve (Tim) always had a soft spot for jazz music. My favourite band for the past year or so has been Snarky Puppy, they are an incredibly talented Brooklyn based jam band and are inspirational in the way they have built their career and audience. Overall, some of my most played artists are from the motown era like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and anything James Jamerson plays on.
TIANA: The EP came to life over the course of twelve months, with a few songs not making the final cut. How hard was it to decide on the final track list? What was the decision process in terms of what did and didn’t make the cut this time round?
TIM + CAMERON: The EP took a very long time to make. Firstly, when we decided to keep Carvel together and work on the next project as a band, our first goal was to make the band a permanent fixture on the YouTube channel and have our followers get used to the idea that it wasn’t going to just be Tim and Cameron anymore. We wanted to evolve and take things to the next level and introduce James and Tom to our audience. As a result, we spent the majority of 2016 learning to make YouTube covers as a four-piece band. This delayed the creation of our EP, but we wouldn’t do anything differently. We learned so much about producing our band and this has preceded the self-production of our EP. Because we didn’t set any time aside specifically for songwriting, when we sat down to finally plan out our second EP at the end of 2016, we tallied up our songs we had half-written in the past year and had enough songs for a full album. We decided to draw a line in the sand at our 8 most finished songs and recorded a demo for each of them. From there, we had a vote to narrow it down to four songs. Unfortunately, and unexpectedly the vote was completely tied up except for one song, so we cut that and ultimately decided, you know what screw it, we’re going to record a seven song EP. As we were nearing our deadline for the finish of the EP, it became clear that one song was not living up to its potential, so we regrettably cut it in the very last week of production. It was actually one of our favourites during the songwriting process, which is a shame, but it will be released when we get it right. Unfortunately it just wasn’t meant for this EP.
'COLOUR ME IN' (CARVEL)
TIANA: TimandCameronPlayGuitar got quite a lot of traction for memorable covers – will Carvel be busting out any covers anytime soon?
TIM + CAMERON: Yes! We have a big year planned for our YouTube fans. We were absent for most of 2017 in order to focus on being normal musicians and finishing our EP so our primary focus in 2018 is going to be back to YouTube. We hope to take what we have learned in the production of this EP put that back into our channel. Hopefully when our listeners hear our new material, all will be forgiven for temporarily abandoning them. We traditionally avoid covers that are popular songs, a) because we’re scared we will run out of them, and b) we want to make sure we do them justice. We’re throwing that out the window this year, we’ll be covering some big hits and we’re also stepping out of our comfort zone and flexing our musical muscles. We’ll be doing some notoriously hard-to-cover artists such as Jeff Buckley, Jimi Hendrix and Radiohead and we recently worked on a collaboration with a Brisbane based post-hardcore band, Deadlights which we are super excited to release.
TIANA: Would you have a go-to cover if you had to suddenly step up and play Like a Version?
TIM + CAMERON: The obvious choice for us would be Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel, it’s our most successful cover to date. Though… we tend to stay true to the original songs for our YouTube covers, but we feel like if we were to do Like a Version we would want to get creative with it. We might pick something left-field, maybe from the Bee Gees or a heavy rock band. My (Tim’s) Dad’s favourite band is the BeeGees, I think if he heard me playing BeeGees on the radio he might finally think I’ve made it.
TIANA: Carvel are Brissie boys, what are your thoughts on the Brissie music scene right now?
TIM + CAMERON: Brisbane is going through a bit of a music revival at the moment, which is nice. Growing up in Brisbane you hear of bands like Powderfinger, the Saints, the Go Betweens, but the music scene always felt sparse. Working musicians need a variety of venues to make an income and call a city home, otherwise they have been traditionally forced to move to Melbourne or Sydney, or even Asia. With a lot of the Sydney scene being pushed to the suburbs, and new venues in Brisbane, more bands are staying. We have a solid heavy music scene here, but the truth is these bands work harder than anyone else to establish themselves. Up and coming alt-rock and pop artists rely too heavily on finding exposure from stations like Triple-J, which is exacerbated by a lack of available venues and audience for pop and rock music. In the past 5 years there have been a number of new venues opening up such as the Triffid, which sounds as good if not better than any other small-medium venue in Australia and is hopefully here to stay.
TIANA: Who are some of your favourite current Aussie artists kicking around?
TIM + CAMERON: Regurgitator are a great band (and from Brisbane, no less) we are glad to see them back on the road. Paul Dempsey works as hard as ever. Late Indigenous artist, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’s album Djarimirri is #1 on the Australian charts right now, which is fantastic to see. Hopefully his album and death will bring some awareness to how beautiful our Indigenous music is and how much more attention it deserves.
TIANA: And finally, even though the EP is just around the corner – what else is on the horizon this year for Carvel?
TIM + CAMERON: We’re going to spend the remainder of the year focusing on putting what we’ve learnt into practice on YouTube and putting out our best content ever. Then, we’re going to write an album. We’re not sure if its still financially viable to make albums in the current climate, but let’s face it, we’re going to write way too many songs anyway. So we’re going to get album ready and then we will decide if it’s going to be multiple EP’s or an LP. We already have so many ideas for new material that we can’t wait to work on.
TIANA: Thank you so much for your time
TIM + CAMERON: Our pleasure, thanks for having us!
CARVEL'S BRAND NEW SELF-TITLED EP IS DUE OUT TOMORROW, APRIL 27th - MORE INFO BELOW!
BY TIANA SPETER